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A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

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A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Elephone » Fri Aug 16, 2019 10:18 pm

Hello. I recently heard an interview on Youtube with Eddie Kramer where he talked about how amazing Burl A-D converters were (claiming they "sound like tape" :? ) To be honest, I think he's promoting them while he also does his best not to destroy Hendrix's legacy by helping to release substandard unfinished material.

Anyway, I'm just wondering, how much are today's budget converters likely to affect recordings. For example, I record a lot on my Zoom H4n.

Is this recorder not considered to be able to capture audio to a professional studio standard then? I mean, are high-end converters more about headroom or are there some digital artifacts that are less noticeable?

In case there's a thread already covering this, I'll leave it there.

Thanks
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Bob Bickerton » Sat Aug 17, 2019 12:12 am

This is related to the concept of the recording priority chain and converters come pretty much at the end of that chain. So if you've sorted everything else out - performer, instruments, performance, room acoustics, microphone choice and positioning, preamp quality and then also the very important aspects of engineering skills and listening skills, then yes, it's possible that high converters would make a difference - but few of us would ever be at that stage of production.

Regarding the Zoom, I'd have thought the preamp quality (and onboard mics if you're using them) would be the main bottleneck in the chain.

Oh, and if someone told me the converters sounded like tape, I'd immediately go out and buy something cleaner!

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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby James Perrett » Sat Aug 17, 2019 12:34 am

Have you seen the recent additions to the thread at

https://www.soundonsound.com/forum/view ... 8&start=20

where the Burl is mentioned?

I have a Zoom U44 which claims to use the same preamps as the H5 and the convertors seem fine. They may be a very small difference compared to other convertors that I use (Audient and Sonifex) but they're certainly better than budget convertors from 20 years ago.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Jack Ruston » Sat Aug 17, 2019 5:43 am

Budget converters have never been so good. As you'd expect - the technology matures. We can now buy for 200 what cost 20k back in 1995.

But... There's a lot to the design of any box that handles audio. The analogue side of it, the quality of the components throughout, the power supply, isolation of noise sources within the unit etc. The design of these things is tricky sometimes, and while anyone can source off the shelf conversion, and stick it in a box, designing a unit that sounds amazing in all ways, and delivers true performance, rather than paper specs, is expensive and can exceed the experience of some.

And this is largely because of demand...the demand for that Nth degree of quality at increased cost isn't there. Focusrite don't make the Forte consoles anymore, they make the Scarlet range...apogee don't make AD8000se's they make Duets. Etc. The market dictates. Yes those companies have high end offerings, but for many the cheaper ranges are funding the flagship products.

Is there a difference? Yes...if I sat you down in front of a Merging converter, and compared it to an MAudio one, you'd hear it. But it doesn't mean you can't make a record on the lesser product. There are a lot of things that matter more these days. I'd rather have great sources, mics and speakers, than the best converter. I'm lucky because I have all of those, and in THAT context, the conversion really does make a difference.

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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Elephone » Sat Aug 17, 2019 4:30 pm

Thanks... but what is the actual observable difference though? Is it a type of distortion or is it low background noise, or both?

I mean, would it more important to use high-end converters for recording music with quieter passages, like say a solo violin piece (or if you want to record a pin drop) ...or is the result better in terms of fidelity to the actual programme waveforms (noise aside) or both?

Thanks.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Martin Walker » Sat Aug 17, 2019 5:08 pm

Elephone wrote:Thanks... but what is the actual observable difference though? Is it a type of distortion or is it low background noise, or both?

I mean, would it more important to use high-end converters for recording music with quieter passages, like say a solo violin piece (or if you want to record a pin drop) ...or is the result better in terms of fidelity to the actual programme waveforms (noise aside) or both?

Hi Elephone,

I suspect having a read of my D/A converters compared feature from some years back in SOS may help, since similar sonic differences apply:

https://www.soundonsound.com/reviews/3- ... s-compared

The section in question is Audio Performance, since it describes all the differences I heard between the converters.

However, essentially it's all about being able to hear further into the mix and discern more low-end detail.


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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby hobbyist » Sat Aug 17, 2019 5:14 pm

Elephone wrote:Thanks... but what is the actual observable difference though? Is it a type of distortion or is it low background noise, or both?

I mean, would it more important to use high-end converters for recording music with quieter passages, like say a solo violin piece (or if you want to record a pin drop) ...or is the result better in terms of fidelity to the actual programme waveforms (noise aside) or both?

Thanks.

Subtle if designed correctly. VERY subtle.

There should be no BG noise unless your mike preamps suck.
Or you dont know how to set the headroom so peaks are at 18dBFS or less. You would have to be incredibly less to have noise problems.

And the DR is so humongous that you have to have massive overkill in headroom to even come close to having problems on quiet passages.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sat Aug 17, 2019 5:36 pm

The differences are usually REALLY REALLY subtle! You'd need an exceptionally good room and excellent monitors (and a good, well-trained sense of hearing) to reliably spot the differences -- assuming the converters are being used with a sensible headroom margin.

The differences become rather more obvious once you start bouncing signals off the end stops -- which a lot of 'old-school' recording and mastering engineers still do, of course!

But like good preamps and monitors, it's really about being able to hear/see further back into the mixes, with a fractionally greater sense of transparency and clarity.

But I think Bob and Jack have explained the priorities and practicalities very well. There'a a lot of number-chasing when it comes to converters, and while the very best are still getting incrementally better, converters probably reached 'good enough' in the mid-2000s. Even the bargain budget models are very far from being the weakest link in the recording chain these days.

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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Elephone » Sat Aug 17, 2019 7:13 pm

Thanks!
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby CS70 » Sat Aug 17, 2019 7:51 pm

Elephone wrote:Anyway, I'm just wondering, how much are today's budget converters likely to affect recordings. For example, I record a lot on my Zoom H4n.

There's two things to consider - one is the A/D conversion during recording (and mixing if you use outboard) - which prints the signal "to tape" (i.e, nowadays, to a file on a disk).
The other is the D/A thru which nowadays you listen to the result (and you mix thru if you use outboard).

In order to perceive any differences that may be, both chains need to be very good, and all that's upstream (recording/listening area, monitoring quality, recording or mixing skills etc) has to be really good.

It's easy to get fixated on supposed "professional standards" but don't forget that in professional circles getting out the final result so that people opens their wallets is what matters, not a standard of theoretical perfection. "Good enough" is the rule (which don't get me wrong, by all standards is pretty good). And what sells is what's upstream - from the material first to the performance and so on.

As others have said, keep working within the converters dynamic range and you'll be fine.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Trevor Johnson » Sat Aug 17, 2019 8:21 pm

A fascinating discussion. When I listen to recordings I made, using from the balmy to the sublime, I have never thought "I wish I had used a better converter", as there are so many other variables. For a long time, the Audient Mico was my AD converter and DA was via an EMU 1212M. I still use the Mico, its my 'go to' preamp for my AKGD202E1s - which I have owned since new and still love! However, the golden age of the AKGs were when I used tape which was then mastered for vinyl - an expert job! Over perhaps a three year period, about 30K LPs were cut and sold, recorded on nothing more than an A77, two D202s and a very large mic stand!

Having said that, the Linx Hilo is superb, but it is also the hub for my audio activities, with practically all the rear connectors (and front headphone), connected to something or other. Interestingly in 2016, Sennheiser had a great offer, plus I had an additional discount, on the HD650 plus Apogee Groove USB DA device. The Apogee is very good, probably in between the KA6 and the Hilo: where the Hilo shines, IMHO, is the exceptional 3D soundstage.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Jack Ruston » Sun Aug 18, 2019 5:49 am

The differences -

Well, I did a shootout, comparing various units, and what I found was not so much an obvious sonic difference, like less noise etc, but a feeling that something irritating and uncomfortable had gone. Oddly, in my opinion, I found myself setting eq and compression differently with the better converter, so while the difference was hard to detect in some ways, it added up to something that wasn't subtle in terms of the result I produced. I should mention that the units I was comparing were all expensive high end offerings. The one I chose was a step above the others.

It's worth noting that you're referring to the burl, which is not subtle at all...it's deliberately coloured with transformers used to add distortion and weight to the sound of the AD.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Zukan » Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:44 am

Headroom also plays a part. When I was using the Hedd 192 I always felt it had so much more in the tank even though I was using it at a sensibly balanced level for the whole signal path.

Soundcards have come real far in the past decade and I have no problems using half decent budget cards like the Audients or Focusrites for pro projects.

Are they as good as high end converters? Of course not but the margin of difference is narrowing as time goes on.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Jack Ruston » Sun Aug 18, 2019 11:14 am

Also worth noting that if you are using a cheaper option, experiment to see if 96k performs better than standard rates...sometimes manufacturers compromise the performance of the filtering in favour of the position of the filter - in other words they cheat a little to get a better spec on paper. As you move up to the higher rate, the side-effects of this are effectively removed. Incidentally it's a shame, because a flat frequency response at 20k is about as far from important as it's possible to get in music recording. Often a little low passing right up there yields a more natural, comfortable experience anyway. Aliasing does not, however, yield a more natural, comfortable experience.

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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Exalted Wombat » Sun Aug 18, 2019 4:36 pm

Zukan wrote:Are they as good as high end converters? Of course not but the margin of difference is narrowing as time goes on.

There will always be a market for doing a simple job in an expensive way. Expensive MUST be better, right? Discrete components MUST be better than a chip.

Trouble is, adequate performance is so easy to achieve in much audio gear these days. And all you can do then is mess it up.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby hobbyist » Sun Aug 18, 2019 6:22 pm

Exalted Wombat wrote:
Zukan wrote:Are they as good as high end converters? Of course not but the margin of difference is narrowing as time goes on.

There will always be a market for doing a simple job in an expensive way. Expensive MUST be better, right? Discrete components MUST be better than a chip.

Trouble is, adequate performance is so easy to achieve in much audio gear these days. And all you can do then is mess it up.

Veblen would agree with you. Sensible people will say good enough is good enough and not pay for nonsense and hype.
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Sun Aug 18, 2019 7:21 pm

hobbyist wrote:Sensible people will say good enough is good enough and not pay for nonsense and hype.

But what's the definition of 'good enough' ?

An amateur's idea of 'good enough' could well seem rather 'scrappy' to a professional...

Whereas a fastidious pro's 'good enough' may seem pointlessly unnecessary to an amateur...

:lol:
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby CS70 » Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:06 pm

Exalted Wombat wrote:Trouble is, adequate performance is so easy to achieve in much audio gear these days. And all you can do then is mess it up.

Amen. :)
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby blinddrew » Sun Aug 18, 2019 9:48 pm

Yeah, I figure I've got a good few years to go yet before I can start blaming my gear. ;)
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Re: A-D & D-A converters, budget vs high-end

Postby hobbyist » Mon Aug 19, 2019 12:40 am

Hugh Robjohns wrote:
hobbyist wrote:Sensible people will say good enough is good enough and not pay for nonsense and hype.

But what's the definition of 'good enough' ?

An amateur's idea of 'good enough' could well seem rather 'scrappy' to a professional...

Whereas a fastidious pro's 'good enough' may seem pointlessly unnecessary to an amateur...

:lol:

do'H!

good enough depends on your objective as constrained by your budget.

What I object to is golden eared deep pocket snobs telling almost everybody else that their gear is crap and to go buy more expensive stuff.

And I always LMFAOROTFPIMP at the fools who claim that some gold plated litz wire is audibly different AND BETTER when they hook up their speakers with it.

Most of that so called 'better' gear is not better it is just different.
And Veblen takes over when the discussion is purely subjective.

Once you get to the bottom of the mid range there is really really nothing that will sound better. You may get more reliability, more functions, prettier cabinets, and other nice or other audibly meaningless things.
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